Daily Life in the United States, 1920-1939: Decades of Promise and Pain

By David E. Kyvig | Go to book overview

10

Crisis: The Impact of the Great Depression

THE SHADOW OF HARD TIMES

The American people did not share evenly in the prosperity of the 1920s. Nor would all undergo the same distress when the economy crumbled in the 1930s. But just as most people in the 1920s felt an impact on their daily life of economic growth brought about by technological and culture developments, so, too, in the following decade did they experience in some way the severe economic depression. By 1932, an estimated 28 percent of the nation’s households, containing 34 million people, did not have a single employed wage earner. Most Americans continued to be supported by their own or a family member’s earned income, but even when jobs did not disappear altogether, working hours and wages were often reduced. By 1933, Americans overall had 54 percent as much income as in 1929. Furthermore, almost everyone knew of someone who had been rendered completely destitute. The immensity of the Great Depression caused virtually every American to feel personally vulnerable. Daily life went on, in many respects much like the previous decade, but the reality of hard times cast a shadow few could escape.

Because it was so unexpected, the economic collapse at the end of the 1920s left almost all Americans feeling insecure. The feeling would last a lifetime for many and shape their attitude toward saving or spending money decades later. The experience of living through a depression affected people differently. Some were always persuaded to save as much as possible for the rainy day that was sure to come, others to spend

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